CAPE TOWN – The Bulls used to battle in the scrums, at times, in recent years, but that is quickly changing under the Jake White regime.
While the Stormers’ set-piece is regarded as the strongest scrum by virtue of the fact that they have the Springbok World Cup-winning front row – Steven Kitshoff, Bongi Mbonambi and Frans Malherbe – the Bulls are flexing their muscles in that area as well.
The Pretoria side’s front three of Lizo Gqoboka, Johan Grobbelaar and Trevor Nyakane got better and better as the season wore on, and were dominant in helping the team win the Currie Cup.
And while the Eastern Province Elephants can hardly be seen as a competitive team in the Kick-Off 2021 series, the Bulls back-up front row of Gerhard Steenekamp, Joe van Zyl and Mornay Smith were again impressive in the 87-10 onslaught at Loftus Versfeld.
It was not only the scrummaging that came to the fore, but their ball-skills in the tight loose as well. All three front-rankers handled the ball with aplomb, and even got offloads away in the tackle, with Van Zyl opening the scoring.
That is not to mention another solid loosehead prop in the experienced Jacques van Rooyen, who played a vital part in last season’s success in the initial absence of the injured Springbok Gqoboka.
“We’ve got unbelievable props. A guy like Jan-Hendrik Wessels, if you consider above him, you’ve got Lizo, Jacques van Rooyen and Gerhard Steenekamp, that bodes well. If that guy is only No 4, things can only be positive,” White said after the EP match.
“If you look at Grobbies (Grobbelaar), Schalk (Erasmus) and Joe (van Zyl), and Janko Uys off the bench, it’s four really good hookers. And they are all much of a muchness when it comes to age, so in that position, we are relatively strong.”
Building such deep pools of depth bodes well for the Rainbow Cup, where the scrum battle is sure to be more challenging. Having so many options would allow White to mix and match combinations – even during matches, much like the Boks did at the World Cup, with the ‘Bomb Squad’ front row of Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx and Vincent Koch ensuring that the heat remains at full-blast in the set-piece.
The Bulls boss is also moulding the rest of the bench options for the Rainbow Cup, particularly in the loose trio, where White said Marco van Staden and Ivan van Zyl will leave the team in July – the No 6 is set to join Leicester in England, while Van Zyl has already signed for Saracens.
Nizaam Carr impressed with his leadership skills and ability to be a link-man between backs and forwards against EP, while Embrose Papier and youngster Keagan Johannes caught the eye with their strike-power and decision-making.
The Bulls will be in action again on Wednesday when they travel to Mpumalanga to take on the Pumas at the Mbombela Stadium.